I respect anyone who speaks out against show horse abuse because they often encounter hostility, blacklisting, and even threats against their safety. Why is standing up against show horse abuse so politically charged? Because professional trainers who utilize abusive “training” techniques often rely on their trophy-winning reputations to get new business. Many owners don’t realize their horses are being abused because the owners don’t know much about horse training or they turn a blind eye to it because they want their horses to win.
The Friends of Sound Horses have been campaigning for years against show horse abuse in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed, which has notoriously (and sadly) been known for show abuse. Walking Horses that are shown with padded hooves (called “Big Lick”) have an exaggerated gait that fires up crowds, but the horses often endure severe pain from having caustic liquids applied to their coronet bands (the skin above their hooves) and then chains are placed around the pasterns (ankles) to apply more pressure to the area. Called “soring,” this technique is so painful that the horse will do anything it can to avoid putting weight on its front hooves.
Girl Scout Troop 44 in New York produced the video below speaking out against the practice of soring in Tennessee Walkers. This video won a Girl Scout Gold Award. It’s discouraging to think that it takes kids to make such an informative video — but kids can often be more insightful and concerned with justice than adults.
Tennessee Walking Horses are a part of American history — they are descended from the saddle horses and Thoroughbreds used as riding horses on the plantations in the South. They’ve been bred for generations to be smart but level-headed, and their very smooth gaits are ideal for riders of all ability levels. Knowing that many of these horses have been tortured for money, ribbons, and prestige is disturbing for those of us who truly love horses. Read about Molly, a former Big Lick Tennessee Walker who was rescued but couldn’t be saved because of the injuries she suffered from her show career.If you want to help The Friends of Sound Horses continue their quest to educate the public and catch offenders, become a member of their organization. You can also send letters to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association and the USDA condemning the practice.
In July 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that increases inspections at shows and penalties for soring infractions. Next, the bill will go to the Senate for a vote.